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  Once Upon a Time in Anatolia It's Murder Out There
Year: 2011
Director: Nuri Bilge Ceylan
Stars: Muhammet Uzuner, Yilmaz Eldogan, Taner Birsel, Ahmet Mümtaz Taylan, Firat Tanis, Ercan Kesal, Erol Erarslan, Ugur Aslanoglu, Murat Kiliç, Safak Karali, Emre Sen, Burhan Yildiz, Nihan Okutucu, Cansu Demurci, Kubilay Tunçer, Salih Ünal, Aziz Izzet Biçici
Genre: DramaBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: It is nighttime in this rural region of Anatolia and though it seems as if nobody is about, so isolated from the world is this place, the sound of car engines indicates otherwise. Through the darkness headlights are seen and three vehicles gradually appear, driving along the winding road, kicking up dust in their wake and finally stopping at a fountain on the verge. The occupants, a group of policemen and other officials, emerge and there is one of their number in handcuffs: he is the suspect in the murder of one of the locals, and he claims to know where the man, who has disappeared though the suspect has confessed, is buried. But as the evening wears on, the likelihood of tracking the corpse down dwindles...

Director Nuri Bilge Ceylan won international acclaim at the Cannes Film Festival and others with his quietly provocative, inescapably mysterious tale of a murder investigation just at the point when police procedurals were making a major comeback - on television. This film could have been adapted to one of those Scandinavian dramas with a few cultural quirks altered, spread out over a few one hour long episodes, and nobody would have been any the wiser. However, Ceylan had bigger fish to fry and the way this plot played out here would have audiences asking questions about what really happened for quite some time afterwards as you think you can grasp what is going on, yet the facts of the case tend to slip through the fingers.

Ceylan threw a few sops to us viewers to indicate that there was more to the killing that met the eye, but not enough to bring in an "I suppose you're wondering why I brought you all here" denouement where a canny inspector would tie up all the loose ends and make it clear why, who and how. This was one of those films that ended in a pattern reminiscent of Michelangelo Antonioni's Blowup in that it had a fairly long, enigmatic scene where we were left to ponder what we had learned and with the doctor character, Cemal (Muhammet Uzuner), regard the view from the window and allow the implications to sink in. But there were more instances of humour in Ceylan's work, along with a curiously contradictory take on the women of the region.

There is one sequence where an angelic but silent young woman offers succour to the party of lawmen and officials with some glasses of tea, and she affects each one of them, even bringing tears to the eyes, which suggests women are placed on a pedastal by the menfolk in Anatolia, or they are as long as they are generous of spirit and selfless with it. The only other significant female we see is the widow of the murdered man, and although it is not stated outright - very little is set in stone here - we begin to have our suspicions just as Cemal does that she knows more than she is letting on about the reasons her husband was murdered. Could it be that the son they had was not his? And was in fact the son of the murder suspect, Kenan (Firat Tanis)?

And could Kenan be covering up for this crime so his son and the woman he may well love escape prosecution and further heartache, not necessarily in that order? Questions, questions. What was for certain was the strong atmosphere the director built up, assisted by a cast who were by turns prosaic and part of an uncomfortably looming conundrum. The first half where they drive around a vast steppe with literally no one else in sight had a pressing mood, both lonely - which is why we latch on to the camaraderie and interaction of the men, even when it turns ugly - and with a perspective suggesting desolation is constantly staved off if you chose to live there, assuming you had a choice. Cemal converses with the Prosecutor (Taner Birsel) about one wife of his acquaintance who committed suicide for reasons he does not - or refuses to - understand, and we can perceive he is talking about his own spouse; they come to the conclusion women can be ruthless, again forcing us to query the official line on the crime, but also the part men play in that dark path. Both indistinct and uneasily clear.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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